More from RELS 348: Empire, Colonialism, and Religion

The subject of Tim Whewell’s story, “The Russians fighting a ‘holy war’ in Ukraine”, BBC News 17 December, 2014 is the volunteer Russian fighters who are currently fighting in eastern Ukraine and their religious/imperialistic motivations.

Tim Whewell interviews a volunteer fighter from Russia, Pavel, who believes he is fighting a ‘holy war’ to defend the Russian speaking people of Ukraine from the Ukrainian government which is supposedly trying to wipe out their culture. Another volunteer points the blame at Britain, Europe and the West. Pavel claims that he and the other fighters are fighting in Ukraine voluntarily to “restore the Russian empire” which would be Orthodox and include former Russian territories such as Belarus and Ukraine. Whewell mentions the belief among many Russians that the “Orthodox-Slav world is surrounded by steadily encroaching enemies” and that historically, volunteers have travelled to defend it. Whewell also suggests that perhaps the Russian government is secretly encouraging these volunteers to go to Ukraine since they are doing nothing to hinder them.

This article offers an interesting insight into the conflict in Ukraine and the religious and imperialistic motives behind the volunteer Russian fighters in Ukraine. However, the author relies heavily on a single source whose credibility is questionable. Pavel speaks for himself and his brigade but it is uncertain if the hundreds of other volunteers share their views. Whewell seems to use Pavel’s views and ideas to paint the picture that the Russian fighters are religious zealots fighting for an Orthodox Russian empire. Although this may be true, not enough information is available to accept this as reality as most of the fighters keep their motives hidden. Personally, I believe that the motivations behind most of the volunteers are simply political and nationalist, rather than religious. How strong religion is influencing the fighters is unclear and whether others share the view that they are fighting a ‘holy war’. They can also be considered anti-imperialistic, since, in their point of view, they are defending Russia against external enemies that threaten Russia’s sovereignty. In their minds, they are not invading Ukraine, but defending Russia from the West.




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